Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg isn’t evaluating police use-of-force incidents while he’s under investigation for fatally hitting a man with his car after being asked to refrain from doing so by four local law enforcement agencies.
The Nov. 3 arrangement created by the Rapid City and Sioux Falls police departments and Pennington and Minnehaha County sheriff offices was approved by the South Dakota police and sheriff associations.
“The attorney general then and still is under investigation for a death of an individual and we didn’t want any doubt cast on the investigation of an officer-involved shooting,” said Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom.
“I also felt it was important to ensure the ongoing investigation of officer-involved shootings by a third-party agency,” said Police Chief Don Hedrick. “Since the attorney general is currently involved in a separate investigation, the Chiefs’ Association agreed it would be appropriate to seek out another office for the final review of any DCI investigation into an officer-involved shooting.”
This appears to be the only work duty Ravnsborg has stepped away from since fatally hitting Joe Boever with his car on Sept. 12, 2020.
Ravnsborg has continued to support lawsuits and attend the the Law Enforcement Officers Standards and Training Commission. He served as an elector for President Donald Trump during the Dec. 14 electoral college vote and has recently been testifying about bills at the Capitol.
Gov. Kristi Noem has said she's upset with the pace of the investigation into Ravnsborg's crash, which will hit the five-month mark on Friday. Ravnsborg said he thought he hit a deer and only realized he hit and killed a person when he came across Boever's body while returning the Hyde County sheriff's personal vehicle the next morning.
The Division of Criminal Investigation, which is part of the Attorney General’s Office, investigates whenever a law enforcement officer uses deadly force against a civilian. The attorney general then reviews the evidence to determine if the officer’s use of force was legal and justified.
Thom said he, Hedrick, Sioux Falls Police Chief Matt Burns and Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead discussed that it would be a good idea to have another prosecutor take over this role from Ravnsborg while he remains under investigation.
He said he can’t remember exactly when the group began discussing this idea but that they emailed DCI Director David Natvig on Nov. 3 to pitch the idea.
“We’d like DCI to still do the investigation, we’d like someone else to review the results of the investigation,” Thom said. “That was predicated on the attorney general being under investigation for the death of an individual so it didn’t seem it would be proper for him to review” these cases.
He said the group suggested that while DCI would continue to conduct the investigations, the Minnehaha State's Attorney would evaluate East River cases and the Pennington County State's Attorney would review any West River cases. However, the Minnehaha State's Attorney would review any cases that take place within Pennington County while the Pennington County State's Attorney would review any that occur in Minnehaha County.
We want to keep the evaluation “as transparent and as independent as possible” and Natvig “agreed it was appropriate to have someone else review the investigation,” Thom said.
Natvig ran the idea past Ravnsborg and approved the arrangement the same day, Thom said.
Natvig and the Attorney General’s Office did not immediately respond to messages asking how Ravnsborg reacted to this suggestion.
The South Dakota sheriff and police associations later approved of the arrangement, Thom and Hedrick said.
This arrangement recently played out when DCI investigated a Rapid City police shooting but the Minnehaha State’s Attorney, not Ravnsborg, evaluated the shooting and found it justified.
Tim Bormann, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, did not explain the reason Ravnsborg wasn’t involved when asked about it Monday.
“There is no statutory requirement as to who is responsible for reviewing the reports and investigation into an officer-involved shooting,” he said instead of explaining how Ravnsborg has agreed not to review any of these cases.
A Custer County deputy is currently under DCI investigation for shooting a civilian and according to the arrangement, the case should be evaluated by Pennington County State’s Attorney Mark Vargo.
Vargo said he hasn’t been in contact with DCI or anyone from Custer County about this but that might just be because it remains under investigation.
“I would anticipate that it would come to us” unless Ravnsborg's case is resolved before the Custer County investigation is, Vargo said.
Bormann and the Custer County sheriff and state's attorney did not immediately respond to messages asking if the case will be assigned to Vargo.
— Contact Arielle Zionts at firstname.lastname@example.org.